New Title: ”The Elephant and the Porcelain Shop”. Transnational Anti-Colonialism and the League against Imperialism, 1927-1937

Edited note: The book has a new title: ”The Elephant and the Porcelain Shop”. Transnational Anti-Colonialism and the League against Imperialism, 1927-1937 [31.1.2017]

With this note on 11 April 2014 I launch one of my forthcoming book projects: The Dark International. The League against Imperialism, Anti-Colonialism, and International Communism, 1925 – 1937. The major reason for why is that I want to write, revise, and publish a transnational history on my doctoral thesis on the sympathizing organization the League against Imperialism (1927-37).

Congress Presidium, "First International Congress against Colonialism and Imperialism", Brussels 10-14 February, 1927

The book will be divided in three thematic parts: Part I will introduce a general survey over the relationship between anti-colonialism and communism as radical political movements during the interwar years. The chronology will abide to a spatial principle, i.e. begin in Versailles 1919, initiated in Brussels, developed and reaching a critical point in Berlin, only to end in Paris and London.

Part II will focus on the internal aspects of the League against Imperialism and the relations to its main beneficiary, the Communist International. This part will rely extensively on my doctoral disseration ”We Are Neither Visionaries Nor Utopian Dreamers”. Willi Münzenberg, the League against Imperialism, and the Comintern, 1925-1933 (Åbo Akademi University, 2013).

Part III shall explore and analyze the transnational political and cultural exchanges of the League against Imperialism. This calls for examining the national sections of the LAI, and, the nature and political discourse of the LAI’s propaganda. This part will also include an examination of the critique introduced and vigorously maintained by the European socialist movement against the LAI, a question that addresses the difficulties of the socialist movement to approach and take a stand on the colonial question during the interwar years.

Aside from these three themes, the book will include an introduction and discussion on the very idea of ”the Dark International”, a conclusive discussion, and a dramatis personae. Based on documents collected in archives in Moscow, Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris, London and Stockholm, the general aim of the book is to produce an extensive and thorough history that will cover every aspect of the League against Imperialism.

 

The Canonical Literature of International Communism: The British Case, 1920

Propaganda Poster for the Communist International

In November-December 1920, European communism took another step in consolidating itself as a movement after the Second International Comintern Congress in Moscow. The recently established communist party in Great Britain had formed information centers, places that functioned as distributive channels to spread the sanctioned literature of the Comintern. For the British communist movement represented London a crucial hub, where the ”B.S.P. Literature Dept. 21 Maiden Lane, Strand, London W. E. 2” and the ”Workers Soc. Fed., 400 Old Ford Rd., London E. 3” were the preferred locations to visit, or contact in order to find socialist and communist literature. The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) also had a center in Glasgow at the ”S. L. Press 50 Renfrew Str”, and in South Africa at the office of the International Socialist League in Johannisburg (P.O. Box 4179). 

To coordinate the distribution of this canonical literature, the Amsterdam Bureau of the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI), an organisational body established in 1920 on Lenin’s personal instructions, organised and supervised this operation. The functions of the Amsterdam Bureau was to act as a connective administrative hub for the Comintern outside of the Soviet Russian border, involving the control and supervision over the communist movement in Western Europe after the Comintern’s foundation in 1919. In Amsterdam governed the Dutch communist and Comintern emissary Sebald Justius Rutgers the bureau, while in Berlin, the so-called ”partner”, the West European Secretariat, was run by Yakov Reich (”Thomas”).  

An examination of the Amsterdam Bureau collection (fond 497) in the Comintern Archive disclose a number of documents/lists that informs us about what kind of literature the communists should read and circulate among its members, or use while recruting new supporters. In the British case, one wonders therefore what was on the ”reading list”? Below follow, in alphabetical order, the canonical literature of British communism in 1920:

Ch. Beard, Industrial Revolution; Bela Kun, Revolutionary Essays; T. Brady, Historical Basic of Socialism in Ireland; [?] Clarke, The Story of Robert Burns; J. Connolly; Labour in Ireland; [?] Déslinierès, Coming Socialism; A.C. Doyle and J. McCabe, Truth of Spiritualism; [?] Fairchild, Socialism and the League of Nations; [?] Gallacher and J. Campbell, Direct Action; [?] Goode, Bolshevism at Work; H. Gorter,       Ireland: the Achilles Heel of England; H. Gorter, The World Revolution; [?] Hay, The Beardmore-Vickers Octopus; B. G. Horniman, Amritsar and our Duty to India; Lenin, Chief Task of our Times; Lenin, Collapse of the Second International; Lenin, Land Revolution in Russia; Lenin, Proletarian Revolution; Lenin, Soviets at Work; Lenin, The Proletarian Revolution; Lenin, Thesis: Democracy and Proletarian Dictatorship; Lenin, Towards Soviets; D. de Leon, As to Politics; M. Litvinoff, Bolshevik Revolution; N. Lenin, His Life and Work; [?] Maclean, Coming War with America; [?] Maclean, Condemned from the Dock; [?] Maclean, War after the War; Malone, Russia Republics; R. Marchand, Why I Support Bolshevism; [?] Money, Fifty Points about Capitalism; Rajani Palme Dutt, The Two Internationals; Sylvia Pankhurst, Lloyd George takes the Mask off; [?] Paul, Hands off Russia; [?] Price, Capitalist Europe and Socialist Russia; [?] Price,  Origins and Growth of Russia Soviets; [?] Newbolds, Bankers, Bondholders and Bolsheviks; [?] Newbolds, Menace of American Capitalism; [?] Newbolds, Politics of Capitalism; Karl Radek, Socialism, Science to Practice; [?] Ransome, Six Weeks in Russia 1919; [?] Ransome, Truth about Russia; [?] Rickman, Eye-Witness from Russia; [?] Roebuk, Nationalisation of Women; [?] Sadoul, Socialist Soviet Republic; [?] Shumazki, Aims of the Bolsheviki; Boris Souvarine, Third International; [?] Stair, Worker looks at History; J. Stewart, An Appeal to the Young; [?] Tchitcherine, The Foreign Policy of Soviet Russia; [?] Tchitcherine, Russia’s plan for the League of Nations; Leon Trotsky, Bolsheviki and World Peace; Leon Trotsky,  History of Russian Revolution; Klara Zetkin, Through Dictatorship to Democracy; [unknown] A Sketch of the Russian Trade-Union Movement; [unknown] First Code of Laws of Russian Republic; German Spartacist: Their Aims and Objects.

”…a smooth operator”: Laszlo Dobos (a.k.a. Louis Gibarti) Short Personal File in the Comintern Archive

Enclosed Picture in Gibarti's Personal File, National Archives (Kew Gardens, London) Public Records Office KV2/1401

Picture of Louis Gibarti, Source: The National Archives (Kew Gardens, London) Public Records Office KV2/1401

In 1946, an unknown writer remembered and described the Hungarian Laszlo Dobos as ”a smooth operator”, a person that had been active under the name of Louis Gibarti (1895-1967), and was intimately connected to Willi Münzenberg‘s activities. I will not here go further into detail about Gibarti/Dobos life and career in the international communist movement during the interwar years. However, the definition of Gibarti as ”a smooth operator” aptly describes his life and the ambigous traces left behind in the Comintern Archive in Moscow, traces that leave more questions than answers. While some of the active individuals in the Comintern left a trail of documents, compiled and categorized in personal files, Gibarti’s personal file consists only of half a page (see below), which, in all of its scarceness, give no substantial evidence or clues about his actual role or contributions in various communist movements or activities during the 1920s-30s. 

Still, Gibarti is a fascinating character in the history of international communism, a person that played a part in shaping the outcome of the League against Imperialism and the Anti-war movement in 1932 (the Amsterdam Congress in August, 1932) to mention a few examples. In 1941, the political police in Madrid arrested Gibarti ”while trying to cross illegally Spain”, whereupon he spent 27 months in Spanish prisons and camps. After the Second World War, Gibarti held a position in the UNESCO, later suspected of being an informant for the FBI in connection with the communist spectre beginning to haunt the USA as the Cold War made its entrance. In 1955, Gibarti re-established some of the contacts from the 1920s as he interviewed the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in the French paper Le Monde diplomatique in relation to the Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung 1955. Thus, this is one of several historical threads which link together the Bandung Conference in 1955 with the ”First International Congress Against Colonialism and Imperialism” in Brussels 1927.   

Below follow Gibarti’s ”total” personal file in the Comintern Archive:    

RGASPI 495/205/6048: Louis Gibarti (LUIZ GIBARTI)

List 1, Biography on Gibarti, undated

Luis Gibarti, geb. 26.4.95. Ungarn. Politisch organ. Seit 1913 Jug. 1919 ung. KP. KPD seit Febr.29 (?) Arbeitete im internationalen Auftrag für die IAH, war in Amerika usw. Vor Eintritt der Hitlerdiktatur war G. Instrukteur der Telefunkenzelle. April [19]33 verließ er Deutschland auf Anweisung des Gen. Mü [Münzenberg]. Er meldete sich nur bei seiner Zelle ab, da er die UBL nicht erreichen konnte. War dann in Paris Sekr. d. Welthilfskomitees, und reiste in dessen Auftrag auch andere Staaten.

The sparse content in Gibarti’s personal file in the Comintern Archive stands in stark contrast with his personal file, located in the British National Archives in Kew Gardens, London. The dossier contains documents and accounts which entails a thorough understanding of Gibarti’s life both within and outside the international communist movement. The history of Gibarti will be continued…

Willi Münzenberg, the League against Imperialism, and the Comintern, 1925-1933 (Vol.I-II)

The Honorary Presidium and Executive Committee of the League against Imperialism (1929) prior to the 'Second International Congress against Colonialism and Imperialism'

The Honorary Presidium and Executive Committee of the League against Imperialism (1929) prior to the ‘Second International Congress against Colonialism and Imperialism’

On 10 February 1927, the “First International Congress against Imperialism and Colonialism” in Brussels marked the establishment of the anti-imperialist organisation, the League against Imperialism and for National Independence (LAI, 1927-37). The complex preparations for the congress were though initiated already in 1925 by Willi Münzenberg, a German communist and General Secretary of the communist mass organisation, Internationale Arbeiterhilfe (IAH, 1921-35), together with the Communist International (Comintern, 1919-43). Berlin was the centre for the LAI and its International Secretariat (1927-33), a city serving the intentions of the communists to find colonial émigré activists in the Weimar capital, acting as representatives for the anti-colonial movement in Europe after the Great War. With the ascendancy to power of the Nazi Party (NSDAP) on 30 January 1933, the LAI reached an abrupt, but nonetheless, expected end in Berlin. This book, based on Petersson’s doctoral dissertation, examines the role, purpose and functions of a sympathising organization (LAI): to act as an intermediary for the Comintern to the colonies. The analysis evaluates the structure and activities of the LAI, and by doing so, establish a complex understanding on one of the most influential communist organisations during the interwar period, which, despite its short existence, assumed a nostalgic reference and historical bond for anti-colonial movements during the transition from colonialism to post-colonialism after the Second World War, e.g. the Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955. Fredrik Petersson’s study, based on archives in Moscow, Berlin, Amsterdam, London, and Stockholm, uncovers why the Comintern established and supported the LAI and its anti-imperialist agenda, disclosing a complicated undertaking, characterised by conflict and the internal struggle for power, involving structural constraints and individual ambitions defined by communist ideology and strategy.
Publisher: Queenston/Edwin Mellen Press
Publication Date: Nov 15, 2013